Over the course of this offseason, a number of articles have been published regarding the New England Patriots training camp, and what to watch for. But this is football, which means you can never have enough “questions”, especially, at this point in the season.
This Patriots team is extremely talented, and will be one of the favorites to advance to the Super Bowl once again. But that doesn’t mean there are question marks. This team has plenty of weaknesses, but that is what training camp is for. To work, improve, and hopefully come out the best team you can be.
1. How will the Pats get Rob Gronkowski back into “the mix”?
The health of tight end Rob Gronkowski is going to be one of the biggest story-lines all year long for the Patriots. If he is healthy, they will have a very good shot at winning it all. If not, then the road to the Super Bowl becomes that much harder.
The good news is he has already been cleared, and will not end up on the PUP list. Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston thinks the Patriots won’t rush Gronk back, which is the smart thing to do. They need him all year long, so there is no point in risking another injury in July. But we will still have the opportunity to see how he looks even if he isn’t participating fully in practice, and I think I speak for all Pats fans when I say we absolutely cannot wait to see this beast back on the field.
2. Defensive Tackles
Mike Loyko of NEPD.com noted this yesterday, but it seems like amid all of the Gronkowski hype, we seem to have forgotten about Vince Wilfork. It looks like he has avoided the PUP as well, and while that isn’t as big as Gronk being cleared, it certainly has its own weight (that was not a fat joke). Wilfork is the anchor to this run defense, as they slipped all the way down to 30th in the league last year with Wilfork gone for most of the season. Like Gronkowski, the Patriots shouldn’t rush Wilfork back, but it is great news to see that he is healthy enough to avoid the PUP list.
So with that said, I will be looking forward to hearing how Wilfork looks post-injury, in addition to his teammates on the inside of that defense. Tommy Kelly and Dominique Easley have not been cleared yet, which gives Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, and Sealver Siliga a chance to prove they deserve a roster spot. These guys played their hearts out last year, and given the circumstances, I think they did pretty well. I believe all three of them improved over the offseason, and I hope they wow us in camp.
3. Running Backs Group
Not much has been made of the Patriots’ stable of running backs this offseason, and that is because there is not much to talk about. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are a dangerous one-two punch, and Brandon Bolden and James White are two quality backups who could end up making a big impact as the season goes on. But I am interested to see two things.
The first, is how Ridley responds to criticism once again. And the second, is if rookie James White can rise to the occasion, and force Bill Belichick to give him a good amount of touches when the season gets here. Ridley has so much talent, but far too often we overlook that talent because of his fumbling problems. If he wants to get over those fears, he needs to start now, and protect the ball throughout training camp. If he can do that, there is no telling where this kid could go.
As for White, many have mentioned this, but he may end up becoming a significant contributor to this team in 2014. He doesn’t have any “wow” skills, but he is a solid back, he holds onto the football, and he knows how to gain yardage. If Ridley has any fumbling problems, or Vereen gets hurt again, I would not be surprised to see Belichick give White the starting nod.